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Month: November, 2014

Beauty is in the street

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Ferguson, MO – Nov 25, 2014

What is going on here is real simple,” said D.R.A, 18, who was with his two younger sisters. “We told them no justice, no peace. We didn’t get our justice, so they don’t get their peace. We’re fucking shit up over here. Plain and simple.

Nothing Short of Apocalyptic – Fiery Rebellion Ensues After Grand Jury Announcement

“20 photos that show exactly what happened last night in ferguson”

Video of Oakland from Global Uprisings

Video from New York Times

Freeways blocked in Oakland

Why we won’t wait

In defense of Looting

In defense of the Ferguson Riots

Article in “Time” Magazine (!) defending the riots –  “The violent protests in Ferguson, Mo., are part of the American experience. Peaceful protesting is a luxury only available to those safely in mainstream culture”

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The Ideology of Revolution in Bioshock Infinite and Hunger Games

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via leftcom.org (spoiler alert!)

The effects of the absence of revolutionary projects on the cultural consumption of youth

A well known effect of the current crisis of the mode of production is that it involves a loss of legitimacy resulting in it being challenged by a fringe element of the exploited. Faced with this revolt, Capital has many defences. Capitalist domination has an incredible arsenal, from trade unions to its armed forces, from the ballot to tear gas, from racist divisions to nuclear weapons, over which the proletariat has never permanently triumphed. Whenever the proletariat has been defeated but has managed to deliver a severe blow to the bourgeoisie, its successes are soon transmuted and added to the arsenal of bourgeois rule. The Paris Commune gave way to the voting booths, the October Revolution produced Stalinism, anarchism has become democratic anti-fascism.

The proletarian struggle often has a cultural side. This is a movement against the insignificance of bourgeois existence and of culture, the counter-culture. It is doomed to failure if it is not based on a class movement, if it does not find the material basis to flourish. It has, until now, always been recuperated and relegated to the status of a commodity. Its subversive substance is transformed into capital, the revolt into a commodity. The absorbed counter-cultures are as much a device for conservation and control as the social democratic organisations. Revolt is profitable, especially in times of crisis, because it calls on a group of proletarians, often young, to consume. Anti-fascist skinheads and the teamsters are as much alike as Burningman and Montdragon. They channel the revolt of the exploited, reducing it to a mere cog in the capitalist machine, and creating a new outlet for the revalorisation of Capital.

For two or three years, it is not only the revolt that is exploited, but the very idea of revolution. Since the uprisings in the Arab world, the cultural representations of insurrections have multiplied on the market. From the latest Batman villains who inexplicably launched an anti-capitalist insurrection to put into operation a plan to destroy a city with home-made nuclear weapons to the gang of revolutionary youth of the horrific book Divergence. Overturning the established order seems fashionable. The success of these productions is rooted in the fact that they cater for a young generation of proletarians in the countries at the centre of capitalism. More educated than previously, as precarious workers, they will inherit a planet devastated by overproduction and very likely an imperialist world war more total and devastating than the previous two. This generation will have no choice but to get rid of capitalism, of blasting its voice towards the future, if it does not want to end up envying the fate of those shredded at Verdun or incinerated in the Nazi camps.

One thing is striking about these new revolts in almost every case. The revolutionary project has no name. Sometimes it does not even exist. The revolution is purely negative in its essence. Although having stated that

“Communism is for us not a state to be created, nor an ideal to which reality will have to adjust. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.” (The German ideology)

Marx Engel took care to define a little what a classless and stateless society would be like. ”From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” or “a free association of producers” remain clear benchmarks for the future. The spectre haunting Europe had a name and a substance, now it is anonymous and empty. We will analyse two works to see how this phenomenon occurs. First the video game “BioShock Infinite” and then the series of books adapted for the film “The Hunger Games”.

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The Inexplicably Bloodthirsty BioShock Infinite

In BioShock Infinite, released in March 2013, the player is Booker DeWitt, detective, former member of the US Cavalry who participated in the massacre of Wounded Knee and is a former Pinkerton agent. You are sent in 1912 to a floating city called ”Columbia” to find a woman in exchange for the redemption of these debts. The city was to be an ideal representation of American society at the beginning of the century; it is a caricature. Racial segregation, abject exploitation of the workers, hypocritical puritanism and religious bigotry stretch out before your eyes. This is America described by Vladimir Pozner and Howard Zinn, where class war rages.

The proletarians are organised by a group called ‘Vox Populi’, led by a brilliant black woman, Daizy Fitzroy. Rebel workers, dressed in red, with an aesthetic between that of the IWW and the beginning of the Russian Revolution, the association with the socialist movement is easy to make. But no ideology seems to animate the Vox. Apart from a vague populism, no political project, except for a hatred of the ‘founders’ (the name given to the big bourgeois of Columbus) and a form of jealousy motivates them. At the beginning of the game, ”Vox” are rational, their intentions are noble and their methods are quite justifiable faced with the repression of the regime. But when the revolution triumphs, the masses become brutal and bloodthirsty. Although similar events may appear, the turnaround is pretty brutal. The most extreme case is that of Fitzroy, who tries to kill a bourgeois child, to ‘destroy evil at its root’ but who, as although a determined revolutionary leader, had never done anything so bloodthirsty before.

The explanation for this sudden revolutionary thirst for blood is the same one that sheds light on their lack of political project. The revolution in essence is considered a violent and negative act, despite its noble intentions. The bloodshed is considered normally associated with any attempt to change the world outside the bourgeois framework. Any qualitative change in society is associated with the liberal fear of the “tyranny of the mob”, so dangerous for minorities (especially the exploiting minorities). The revolution itself is seen as something that can only degenerate into an act of bloody dictatorship. It is a well known process, whether in the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution. Bourgeois historiography is only capable of considering it a succession of the most horrific bloodbaths, each worse than the last.

Another analytical angle may be that this is the current vision of many white liberals to the racially rooted proletarian uprisings in countries at the centre of capitalism. Liberals will often reduce acts of rebellious rioters to simple moments of revenge by looting. We can see this vision when, having won, a member of Vox writes ”your lives are ours, your houses are, your wives are ours. ” Although this view is true in part, the rioters often engage in acts of vandalism counter-productive to their own interests, the movements often dying out after their phases of riot through lack of political substance. The fact remains that social conflict is reduced to bestial acts of revenge by a part of the population which is just what bourgeois social organisation thinks.

The Hunger Games: Something Altogether Different

The Hunger Games is a series of youth adventure books following the most classical genre since the early 2000s: that of a child, teenager or young adult who saves the world. The success of Harry Potter is emblematic of this narrative model. Born of the broken promise of Francis Fukuyama of the ‘end of history’ this narrative model is simply that of the generation born after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The promise of free market capitalism was not achieved, “evil” persists though it is unclear how, and young people are forced to encounter it like their parents. The threat is rarely new: it’s usually an ancient evil, defeated by previous generation, who returns to the present. It is easy to understand that this is the spectre of ‘totalitarianism’. It is the USSR standing among the ashes of the Third Reich, it is Saddam Hussein rising from the ruins of the Berlin Wall.

A feature of The Hunger Games is the imposition of a certain gender gap. Indeed, in this series, evil has overwhelmed the previous generations. Evil is the Capitol, a physical place and a structure of government that governs the country of Panem. In a post-apocalyptic North America, the Capitol has established its dominance over 13 districts. Districts are areas of North America, each of which produces a type of goods for the Capitol. For example, District Twelve where Katniss comes from, is known for its coal mines. The economic domination of the Capitol was challenged by a rebellion that was crushed 74 years before the series starts. Since the rebellion, the Capitol has organised a series of fights to the death between young people of the 12 districts in order to reinforce the Capitol’s supremacy over the districts. The fighting takes place in huge high-tech coliseums recreating hostile areas. The games are broadcast throughout Panem. Katniss, challenging the judges over her own participation in the games, triggers a successful revolution to overthrow the Capitol. However, when the revolution triumphs, the leaders of the revolution propose maintaining the games, but this time with the children of the Capitol. Opposing the replacement games, Katniss kills the leader of the rebellion just as she had President Snow, deposed dictator of the Capitol.

This work is interesting on several points. First of all it offers powerful criticism of a spectacle pushed to the most extreme barbarism. Then there is the international division of labour, which is admittedly simplified, but we are talking about a book for young adults. Even more impressive is the description of the independent district, District 13, which, because of its isolation and its lack of resources, has degenerated into a harsh dictatorship. It seems almost like a criticism of socialism in one country. Also, the designation of the enemy as Capitol, with an O replacing an A is clearly anti-capitalist.

But once again, the absence of a revolutionary project is striking. Apart from two vague lines towards the end of the third book about a republic, the question of what will replace the Capitol is barely touched. Theory is non-existent, and the debates that should animate the revolutionary ranks are non-existent. The rebels have no name other than that of rebels or insurgents. The conclusion is thus predictable. The needs of revolution having corrupted the rebel leaders, the fight should now be against them.

From the Poverty of Literature to the Poverty of the Movement

The failings of these revolutionary movements accurately represent the shortcomings of the current movement of the proletariat. Blind violence of the proletarians of a racially dominated Vox Populi echoes those of immigrant proletarian youth, stuck on the periphery of the capitalist metropoles with their devastating eruptions of rebellion. The anti-Capitolisme Panem Rebel echoes the informed anti-capitalism of Occupy and the Indignados. This is the ideological depression of a generation of proletarians, where the enemy is only vaguely known. Capitol and the Founders are echos of the 1% and Babylon, or the revolutionary project is vague, undefined. This is a proletariat smitten by its experience and its past. The culprit is not hard to find. The carrion of Stalinism still stinks strong enough to undermine the revolutionary movement. The defeat of the Russian Revolution opened a wound in the revolutionary movement, a wound that is slow to heal. Stalinism dealt a severe blow not only to the political project of the proletariat, communism, associating it with gulags and famine, but also the material force that carried the experience of the proletariat, its Revolutionary Party, into association with the authoritarian state. If the current material conditions push all thinking beings to severely undermine capitalism, the lack of a material force that could link the working class to its revolutionary past, to the experience upon which it can draw, will lead us straight to barbarism.

Maximilien

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Inextinguishable Fire: Ferguson and Beyond

By R.L., metamute.org17 November 2014

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Image: Ferguson rebel holds up sign: ‘Nice Night 4 a Revolution’

The cop murder of Mike Brown and the subsequent eruption in Ferguson and around the US have raised questions about the value of racialised life and the forms of struggle against race emerging in the face of displacement, immiseration and militarised policing. R.L. traces the coordinates of a militant younger generation that has a different relation to race and class belonging

 We are ready to die tonight

Posted on twitter by Anon

We still live in the shadows of the global financial crisis. Now seemingly a distant memory – along with the wave of struggles that trailed in its tracks – the full ramifications of the crisis are still unfolding today. Sluggish worldwide GDP growth rates, high unemployment levels, diffuse immiseration amongst the population…all the while governments bear a purely negative function, engaging in a hodgepodge of ineffective half-measures intended to prevent further social dissolution. In this regard, we very much agree with Endnotes’ analysis of the present as caught in a holding pattern, in which the global crisis of capital has for the moment stalled and the forces of disintegration are kept at bay.[1]

Within the constraints of these circumstances, a growing mass of humanity are being left behind as the economy falters ahead. In order for capitalist society to continue its course, the growing mass of surplus humanity must somehow be ‘integrated’ into class society even despite being socially ‘unnecessary’ to its reproduction. In the absence of any wider social resolution to growing immiseration, the predicament is for now resolved ideologically through criminalisation and practically through punishment. Increasing immiseration, and subsequently exclusion, must therefore be justified and normalised. Rising social inequality becomes framed as a problem of containment and the solution one of increasing control.

The police shooting of Michael Brown resonates all too familiarly within this interim period. However, in contrast to other similar incidences, Ferguson has led to an especially explosive and protracted reaction. Its impact has gone far beyond the small suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, attracting not only those in the immediate vicinity of the town itself, but reverberating all throughout the United States. What factors have made the rebellion in Ferguson particularly extensive? Does the eruption indicate any evolutionary development in the problem of coordination amongst proletarians in light of past struggles? And what does this eruption tell us about our place within the ongoing crisis of the capitalist class relation?

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THE “KURDISH QUESTION”, ISIS, USA, ETC.

by Il Lato Cattivo

[We publish below a translation of “‘Questione curda’, Stato Islamico, USA e dintorni” by the Italian collective Il Lato Cattivo. Though there are limitations to the text (for example it largely ignores the Arab Spring) we think it provides an insightful analysis of recent geopolitical conflict in the Middle East. Thanks to Nicole, Marco, Matthew, and the authors for help with the translation.]

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The following text was originally prepared for a public meeting — held in Bologna at the beginning of September 2014 — with Daniele Pepino, author of Kurdistan. In the Eye of the Cyclone (in “Nunatak” no. 35, summer 2014). Unable to attend the meeting, we subsequently altered the initial draft; what results can be read either as a series of marginal notes on that article, or as a stand-alone text.

Kurdistan. In the Eye of the Cyclone has the merit of presenting a clear picture of the political forces that act in the Kurdish region; but the article gives rise to a series of questions that we would like to pick up. Beyond a simple valorisation of the intervention of the PKK militias in support of the Yazidi, threatened by the Islamic State (IS), in northern Iraq, the author mobilizes a veritable apologia for this organization and its alleged “libertarian” turn (the so-called democratic confederalism). Moreover, the absence of a description of the social and class forces of which the various organizations are an expression, presents their work as the product of simple subjective choices made by indeterminate individuals. Finally, a number of issues, from the financing of the PKK to the framework of alliances that goes into defining the Middle East, are too perfunctorily dealt with. Of course, one would need to write several books in order to comprehensively address all these points; the following notes are accordingly not any less sketchy. But we can in this way examine in a different light both the recent evolution of the “Kurdish question”, as well as the conflicts that are going on once again in the Middle East. If this can be of any use for us, or for others, it lies in the fact of not posing the question of autonomy (whatever that means), but that of communism.

THE KURDISH QUESTION: A HISTORICAL DIGRESSION

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Source: The Economist

The emergence of a specific “Kurdish question”, beginning at the end of the First World War, is inscribed in the chaotic process of the formation of nation-states in the Near and Middle East. Everywhere, the formation of a modern nation-state requires that the borders of an administrative state match those of a single national population. Multinational states are generally problematic or exceptional situations. The nation-state, i.e. the state of capital, is mono-national, because the relationship between the individual and the state cannot tolerate loyalty to intermediate communities—state and nation must coincide. This process is nothing “natural”, it is a process of homogenization that includes every kind of bricolage, and can avail itself of forms of soft assimilation as well as the most brutal ethnic cleansing. If it is true that for Western Europe the population puzzle has been a less important obstacle than in the Balkans or the Middle East, the reason lies not so much in the greater or lesser complexity or insolubility of the puzzle itself, but in the fact that, in Western Europe the formation of nation-states was realized with the momentum of an endogenous capitalist development, made possible by a precise sequence of previous modes of production, while in the Balkans and the Middle East it followed from a development of capitalism that originated elsewhere, and the inter-capitalist rivalries that emerged as a result.  The fragmentation of the Ottoman Empire, or rather its division between the victorious war powers Britain and France, led to the foundation on the one hand of Iraq and Syria under the respective mandates, and on the other that of Turkey, with the rise of the nationalist movement of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk). The latter found himself immediately confronted with the multinational character of the future Turkish state (Turks, Kurds and Greeks of Anatolia), although  the situation had already been “simplified” by the extermination of the Armenians in 1915–16 at the hands of the “Young Turks” (1.2 million deaths). As for the Kurds, the Treaty of Sèvres (10 August 1920) had sanctioned the possibility of creating a small independent Kurdistan, provided that this corresponded to the collective will of the Kurdish people and that an Armenian state was also built from some provinces of eastern Anatolia. These conditions were rejected by tribal leaders and sheikhs (landowners), because the territory of the proposed Kurdish state was small relative to the region actually occupied by the Kurdish population, a territory that would have been further reduced by the emergence of an Armenian state. An embryonic Kurdish nationalism then tried to join the Kemalists whose response after consolidating their own position was to crush Kurdish dissent along with the Marxist element at Koçgiri (1921), before imposing through the treaty of Lausanne (1923) a revision of the Sèvres agreements of three years earlier, finally fixing today’s Turkish borders and in doing so leaving Southern Kurdistan to the British Mandate.

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The State

ISSUE 4: THE STATE

 

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INTRODUCTION

Mate­ri­als for a Rev­o­lu­tion­ary The­ory of the State | Asad Haider and Salar Mohandesi

“I believe that the sta­tus of the state in cur­rent think­ing on the Left isvery prob­lem­atic,” Stu­art Hall wrote in 1984, in the midst of Mar­garet Thatcher’s war on the “enemy within.” He reflected on the legacy of the post­war period, which saw the exten­sion of pub­lic ser­vices within the con­text of a vast expan­sion of the state’s inter­ven­tion in social life.

STRATEGIC LEGACIES

Seven The­ses on Work­ers’ Con­trol (1958) | Raniero Panzieri

In the work­ers’ move­ment there has been for a long time, and in suc­ces­sive peri­ods, a dis­cus­sion of the ques­tion of the modes and tem­po­ral­i­ties of the tran­si­tion to social­ism. One ten­dency, which occurred in var­i­ous forms, believed it was pos­si­ble to schema­tize the tem­po­ral­ity of this process, as if social­ist con­struc­tion had to be pre­ceded, always and in every case, by the “phase” of con­struc­tion of bour­geois democracy.

The­ses on the Trans­for­ma­tion of Democ­racy and the Extra­parlia­men­tary Oppo­si­tion (1968) | Johannes Agnoli

These the­ses serve as a sup­ple­ment to my book Trans­for­ma­tion of Democ­racy and a cor­rec­tion to some mis­quo­ta­tions made at the remark­able del­e­gates con­fer­ence of the SDS. I am gen­er­ally of the opin­ion that rather than inter­pret texts, rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies should change rela­tions. As mea­sured by the state’s actual power rela­tions and by the actual rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion in soci­ety, the famil­iar expres­sion for the mod­ern bour­geois state – “par­lia­men­tary democ­racy” – rep­re­sents a paradox.

Cri­sis and Strat­egy: On Daniel Bensaïd’s “The Notion of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Cri­sis in Lenin” | Patrick King

The Eng­lish trans­la­tion of Daniel Bensaïd’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Une lente impa­tience, is a wel­come event in the Anglo­phone Marx­ist world. Not only does it con­tain a rich his­tory of some of the most deci­sive moments for the French Left from the ’60s to the present, it also deep­ens our under­stand­ing of the het­ero­dox sources that coex­isted within Bensaïd’s unique form of Marxism.

The Notion of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Cri­sis in Lenin (1968) | Daniel Bensaïd

In sev­eral places through­out his work, Lenin tries to define the notion of a “revolution­ary cri­sis,” espe­cially in Left-Wing Com­mu­nism: An Infan­tile Dis­or­der and The Col­lapse of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tional. How­ever, he out­lines a notion more than he estab­lishes a con­cept, as the descrip­tive cri­te­ria that he enu­mer­ates remain sub­jec­tive assessments.

Hans-Jürgen Krahl: From Crit­i­cal to Rev­o­lu­tion­ary The­ory | Michael Shane Boyle and Daniel Spaulding

Hans-Jürgen Krahl died in a car crash in 1970, at the age of twenty-seven. By that time he had weath­ered the rise and decline of the Social­ist Ger­man Stu­dent Union (Sozial­is­tis­cher Deutscher Stu­den­ten­bund, or SDS), among whose ranks he was, arguably, both the most sophis­ti­cated the­o­rist and, after Rudi Dutschke, the most incen­di­ary ora­tor. The SDS had been founded shortly after World War II as the youth wing of the Social Demo­c­ra­tic Party (SDP) of Ger­many. As the lat­ter moved towards the cen­ter, how­ever, the SDS rad­i­cal­ized, even­tu­ally lead­ing to expul­sion from its par­ent orga­ni­za­tion in 1961. It would soon become the most impor­tant stu­dent group in Ger­many, even as its offi­cial pol­icy shifted fur­ther towards rev­o­lu­tion­ary Marxism.

The Phi­los­o­phy of His­tory and the Author­i­tar­ian State (1971) | Hans-Jürgen Krahl

His­tor­i­cal materialism’s crit­i­cal eco­nomic prog­noses on the nat­ural course of the cap­i­tal­ist world order have been con­firmed. The con­di­tions for the eco­nomic break­down and cri­sis of cap­i­tal have been ful­filled; the his­tor­i­cal ten­dency of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion has long since reached the degree of con­cen­tra­tion and cen­tral­iza­tion that Marx and Engels des­ig­nated as its nat­u­rally pro­duced his­tor­i­cal ter­mi­nus. The exis­tence of the author­i­tar­ian state is just as much an expres­sion of the “final cri­sis” as it is of the tem­po­rary, polit­i­cally medi­ated suc­cess of the attempt to man­age it in the inter­ests of monop­oly capital.

The New Deal and the New Order of Cap­i­tal­ist Insti­tu­tions (1972) | Luciano Fer­rari Bravo

To speak of the New Deal as a huge qual­i­ta­tive leap in the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ist insti­tu­tions – a leap that, pre­cisely because it func­tions at a cru­cial point in the plot of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety at a global level, has itself a spe­cial his­tor­i­cal impor­tance – seems to be a state­ment by now gen­er­ally taken to be wholly cor­rect. The mat­ter was already set­tled in the mind of its great­est pro­tag­o­nist and in the ide­ol­ogy cre­ated around him that enthu­si­as­ti­cally founded the “myth” of the New Deal’s “rev­o­lu­tion”; and, if every myth must have a real jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, this one lay in the effec­tive dis­man­tling of the sys­tem in the rapid course of a decade. No less sig­nif­i­cant, at this level, is the bit­ter oppo­si­tion from var­i­ous posi­tions that the New Deal came to pro­voke; these were atti­tudes that then, and not acci­den­tally, flowed back against it in a wide under­ly­ing consensus.

Notes on the Polit­i­cal Over the Longue Durée | Mat­teo Mandarini

Writ­ten towards the end of what we might call the “sec­ond period” of Tronti’s reflec­tions, that of the so-called “auton­omy of the Polit­i­cal,” sand­wiched between the more famous phase of Operaismo and the – almost com­pletely unknown to the Anglo­phone world – “third period” polit­i­cal the­o­log­i­cal phase, that of the twi­light of the polit­i­cal, the short text trans­lated here will come to many Anglo­phone read­ers of Tronti as a surprise.

The Polit­i­cal (1979) | Mario Tronti

The polit­i­cal has a his­tory. It is the mod­ern his­tory of rela­tions of power. To recon­struct, reread, to accu­mu­late mate­ri­als, to lay out the prob­lems by fol­low­ing the unhur­ried course of time, to set out from the clas­sics is not an escape into the past, it is an exper­i­ment, a test, the attempt to ver­ify a hypoth­e­sis. Let us leave for­mu­lae to the arith­metic of pol­i­tics. Let us leave the auton­omy of pol­i­tics to the news­pa­pers. The dif­fi­cul­ties encoun­tered by the Marx­ist the­ory and prac­tice of the work­ers’ move­ment in tak­ing upon itself the fact of power all stem from this absence of knowl­edge, from this lack of reflec­tion on the his­tor­i­cal hori­zon of bour­geois politics.

 

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